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SC /ST Act : What to do?

BHARAT BANDH in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision on The SC and The ST Act, 1989, and its culmination into widespread violence across the country, raises some serious questions pertaining to the socio-political discourse in post-independence India, which needs to be answered.

The apex court, in its recent judgement of 20th March, had modified the few of the provision of the said Act. Judgement forbids the ‘automatic’ or ‘immediate’ arrest of the person, against whom the complaint is lodged. It is now mandatory to take permission for arresting the accused from the appointing authority if he/she is a public servant, and from the SSP if he/she is not a public servant. DSP should hold a preliminary inquiry into complaints to rule out their being false or motivated ones. Bar on anticipatory bail was also struck down.
This decision from the Bench of Justice A.K.GOEL and Justice U.U.Lalit was in a case before the Apex court, by way of appeal. In this case, director of technical education (DTE), Maharashtra, a public servant, appealed for quashing criminal case against him, when the same was declined by the Bombay High Court. The Supreme Court found that an employee of an educational institution had given the complaint solely because the DTE refused to grant sanction to prosecute institutions principal.

Bench acknowledged, the rampant abuse of the Act. It told that Act cannot be allowed to convert into the charter for exploitation by the unscrupulous person or by the police for extraneous reasons against other citizens, as has been found on several occasions, in decision. Another observation of the court is that, many a time, Act is misused to settle the personal scores, which result in the perpetuating casteism.

After massive protest against the decision of the court, which alleged to have diluted the SC/ST Act, 1989, Central government filed a review petition for revocation of the order which diluted the act. Supreme court refused to revoke its order and said “We have not diluted any provision of the SC/ST Act and only safeguarded the interest of innocents from being arrested. Provision of the Act cannot be used to terrorise the innocents.” Court clarified that its order was aimed at protecting the innocents, not undermining Dalit rights. Alluding to the Dalit agitation, the apex court remarked that those who protested had not read the judgement and may have been misled.

Dalit rights activist, various civil society groups are of the opinion that dilution in the provision has caused a climate of fear and oppression. They are of the view that, Act happened to be the only act with teeth that stood up against the atrocities targeted at Dalits.

On the 12th April, 2nd day of hearing of review petition, Attorney general, K.K.Venugopal, apprised the court that its judgement forbidding automatic arrest under the concerned act, has caused a lot of commotion in country and is also creating anger, unease and sense of disharmony. He further added that, confusion created by judgement may have to be corrected by reviewing the judgement and recalling the direction. So far as of now, court is not ready to restoring the original provision.

Since seven decades of independence, the country has seen these type of critical issues, pitting one community against another, divides the nation between we versus they. And the onus has been mostly on the political class, to guide the people in such a way to create a harmonious environment, conducive for building an India, in which all its citizen work like the different organs of the human body for ensuring its complete wellness, without having any conflict among themselves. But the expectation and reality has been always abridged by short term personal, party-centric gains . And the division among different groups, communities always used to churn political mileage.

We are the largest democracy of the world, and presenting consents and dissents are one of the constitutional rights. Then why our opinions, anger and dissents are vented out through large scale violence, illegal bandhs and counter-bandhs? Taking the present case of mass mobilization, in aftermath of decision of supreme court, no prudent person can deny the caste atrocities committed upon the depressed class since thousand years. And still persists in many places in our country. We had witnessed, so many reformers in every time period, from Bhakti movement saints to modern Indian reformers like Mahatma Jyotibarao Phule, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi etc. But none resorted to violence as a solution. All these reformers tried to harmoniously balanced the interest of one group to another.

Atrocities against Dalits and depressed class still persist and evident more in the rural areas than the urban areas. So a constitutional protection along with a stringent statutory law is the need. But any misuse of the said law is to be prevented, to ensure the balance between the rights against caste based discrimination and right of a person to life (right against arrest on frivolous charges) is maintained.

We the people, is duty bound to think what should be the solution for our different problems. We have to keep a check on the forces of fear mongering. We have to ponder upon all the possibilities to arrive at a point to allay the apprehension of all. Surely, Violence cannot be the answer for any of the issue.


Sushant Tiwari

Pursuing Law from Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi. Having experience of teaching students preparing for CAT, and other B school entrance exams.

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